Quick question: Do you know what IFC, The New York Post, The Walt Disney Company, and WNBA have in common? Ponder the answer for a moment, as the tie that binds the four organizations isn't obvious. Go ahead, I've got a minute. Stumped? It's the WordPress content management system (CMS) that powers their websites.
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If you aren't hip to WordPress, here's a short explanation of what it's about. WordPress is a flexible, easy-to-set-up Web publishing platform that has served as the foundation for more than 60 million websites since its launch more than a decade ago. Its popularity has spawned an incredibly rich plug-in ecosystem that gives users the ability to improve their sites in many ways, including search engine optimization (SEO), article enhancement, and comments management. In short, there are an amazing number of ways to trick out your WordPress installation's base functionality, whether you're hosting your own website or using a managed WordPress hosting service.
There are more than 43,000 WordPress plug-ins available as I write this piece. The upside? There are a ton of plug-ins to choose from. The downside? There are a ton of plug-ins to choose from. As with the Android and iOS app stores, the WordPress plug-in catalog houses countless goodies mixed in with even more duds. This guide's goal is to highlight those that will most benefit your website. You can, of course, visit WordPress' Most Popular Plug-in Directory to see the most downloaded plug-ins of the moment, but you'll miss many great potential additions by not digging deeper. That, however, is a potentially massive time sink, so I've done the digging on your behalf.
I've tested numerous WordPress plug-ins—both good and bad—to compile this list of the best that will help your site perform like a champ. And they do it without costing you a cent, because these plug-ins are all free (although some do offer premium levels with additional functionality). If you've explored this list before, you'll notice some changes this time around. I've updated the list to reflect some of my new, favorite WordPress plug-ins. I think you'll like them. I also removed the plug-ins that are no longer available, as well as the plug-ins that haven't been updated in more than a year. An out-of-date plug-in may work with your recently updated WordPress installation, but it's not guaranteed to do so.
Oh, one more thing. Now's the time I should mention that plug-ins can only be installed in self-hosted WordPress sites; if WordPress.com is your host, this article isn't for you.
If you're self-hosting and you're ready to enhance your WordPress-powered site, check out these excellent plug-ins. Got a favorite plug-in that I haven't mentioned? Feel free to shout it out in the comments section below.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
All in One SEO PackBy Michael Torbert Widely considered a WordPress essential, Michael Torbert's All in One SEO Pack should be one of the pillars in your search engine optimization efforts. With it, you can give your page an SEO-friendly title (which shows up at the top of a Web browser), homepage description (which appears beneath your URL when people search for it via Google or other engine), and keywords related to your topic. Warning: Be careful with your keyword density. If Google suspects that you're stuffing keyboards or using black-hat SEO techniques, your search engine placement may be penalized.
Broken Link CheckerBy Janis Elsts Consider this an essential plugin. Broken Link Checker scans your site and notifies you (either within the WordPress dashboard or via email) if any broken links or missing images are found. Broken Link Checker also lets you replace the broken URL with one that works.
RedirectionBy John Godley Redirection is a plugin that lets you redirect links, track 404 ("page not found") errors, and fix other link-based issues. The plug-in is super-useful if you'e migrating pages from an old website, or are making changes to your site's WordPress directory.
SEO Friendly ImagesBy Vladimir Prelovac SEO Friendly Images, designed by Vladimir Prelovac, is a WordPress optimization plug-in that updates your uploaded images with proper ALT and TITLE attributes. The ALT attribute is considered an important part of SEO as it provides an image description to search engines, and it helps create a match when someone keys in a search query. The TITLE attribute plays lesser role; the text associated with this attribute appears when a visitor mouses over an image.
SEO Smart LinksBy Vladimir Prelovac Vladmir Prelovac's other must-have plug-in lets WordPress automatically link keywords and phrases in your posts and comments with corresponding posts, pages, categories and tags on your site. After installing the plug-in, you simply open its configuration option and enter the keywords you use the most often and the links that you'd like to associate to them. So, for example, if you want to link the word "cat" to "cat.com," the plug-in can do this automatically. SEO Smart Links lets you determine how frequently a single keyword or phrase is linked within a single post so that you don't end up with link overload.
Comments and Spam
AkismetBy Automattic Comment and trackback spam are an unfortunate price of website success. The more traffic you accumulate, the more likely you are to be inundated by fake comments. Automattic's Akismet checks comments and trackbacks against the Akismet Web service to see if they look like spam. If the comments and trackbacks are deemed bogus, they're automatically shuffled over to your WordPress installation's spam folder. Clicking Akismet Stats (located in your Dashboard) shows a breakdown of your spam, missed spam, ham (Akismet's term for real comments), and false positives (legit comments and trackbacks mistaken for spam by Akismet that you've since flagged as genuine).
Disqus Comment SystemBy Disqus The Disqus (pronounced "discuss") plug-in integrates with WordPress' native comment system to allow more interactive Web talk. It features threaded comments and replies, social media mentions, the ability for moderators to approve or reject comments via email, and a load of other useful tools.
Communication and Interaction
Contact Form 7By Takayuki Miyoshi Sometimes a site simply needs a solid contact form. You can add one to your WordPress-powered blog with this useful, customizable plug-in. Contact Form 7 supports CAPTCHA and Akismet spam filtering, too, so that you don't have to deal with the bots and other shenanigans that plague the online space.
Custom Post DonationsBy Hahncgdev Looking to collect donations for a good cause or to simply cover your hosting expenses? Custom Post Donations is plugin that creates a customizable widget that you can insert into a WordPress post or page. The $5.95 Pro version features international currency support, and the ability to set alternate PayPlay account information for each individual widget—very handy if you want a donation widget for each site author.
Kebo Twitter FeedBy Peter Booker Kebo lets you easily add a Twitter feed to any of your webpages, and it gives you many visual customization options. It loads quickly, too, so you don't have to worry about weighing down website performance.
Simple: PressBy Andy Staines and Steve Klasen Want to add a forum to your WordPress setup? Simple Press lets you do just that. But don't think it's not full-featured; you can customize the forum with skins, create sub-forums, grant user rankings based on post numbers, and more.
Thank Me LaterBy Brendon Boshell A little courtesy goes a long way. Thank Me Later automatically sends a customizable thank you email to people who have commented on your blog. The plug-in lets you set the time when the email is sent, create multiple messages, and tinker with restriction settings.
Co-Authors PlusBy Automatic, Daniel Bachhuber, Mohammad Jangda Every now and then you'll have an article with multiple authors, so why not credit all of the piece's contributors? This handy plugin lets you assign multiple bylines to posts, pages, and custom post types via a search-as-you-type input box. Keeping your writers happy is important.
Print Friendly and PDF ButtonBy Joost de Valk, JRF, Print Friendly The Print Friendly and PDF button creates printer-friendly and PDF versions of your site's pages and also gives readers the ability to remove images and paragraphs of text, so that they can print exactly what they want.
Simple Pull QuoteBy Llamaman/The Mighty Mo Simple Pull Quote is the perfect addition for highlighting text of interest. You simply place text between the auto-generated tags and your blog will display the text on the front-end with enlarged text and quotation marks.
Favicon by RealFaviconGeneratorBy Philippe Bernard Ever notice the little logo that appears in your browser's address bar when you're visiting a website? That's a favicon, and it's used for branding purposes. If you want to create one for your site, this plug-in gets the job done. It even spits out the correct-sized favicon for mobile browsers.
JetPackBy WordPress.com JetPack is an official WordPress.com plug-in that gives your self-hosted WordPress blog a truckload of extra features. The plug-in serves up visitor stats, social media sharing options, and After The Deadline, a grammar and spell checker.
Theme CheckBy Otto42, Pross Theme Check is a plug-in that should be installed in every WordPress-powered site. It tests your theme and makes sure it's up to spec with the latest WordPress theme review standards. In fact, Theme Check runs the same testing tools that WordPress.org uses for theme submissions.
W3 Total CacheBy W3 Edge Protect your WordPress blog from sudden, huge traffic spikes, and pokey system performance with W3 Total Cache. This plug-in works by caching browser, page, and object data, as well as compressing databases. It also speeds load times by delivering fresh blog data only as needed.
WPtouchBy BraveNewCode WPtouch automatically streamlines your WordPress blog for iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, Android, and other devices. Paying for the $39 premium version adds support for iPhone Retina Displays and ad monetization.
WPVN - Username ChangerBy Minh-Quan Tran The default username for a WordPress administrator is "admin," which gives potential hackers a head start, should they wish to misbehave. Using this plug-in improves your blog's security by changing the default administrator's name to something of your choosing. Use it and you can sleep a little easier at night.
TinyMCE AdvancedBy Andrew Ozz This useful plug-in lets you expand the functionality of WordPress' visual editor by adding the ability to alter font size, create and edit tables, and much more. Give it a download if you find the vanilla editor too limiting.
Viper's Video QuicktagsBy Viper007Bond If you're tired of copying and pasting HTML into your site's back end when you want to embed video, this plug-in can simplify the process. After you install Viper007Bond's plug-in, icons representing your favorite online video respositories (YouTube, Vimeo, DailyMotion, and more) appear above the main content area. Clicking one of them lets you enter the video's URL and dimensions. Clicking Okay inserts the video (centered) into the blog. It's just that easy.
WordPress Editorial CalendarBy Cvernon, Justinstresslimit, Mary Vogt, Zack Grossbart WordPress is an excellent content management system, but it doesn't display scheduled posts in an ideal (or, some would say, even sensible) manner. WordPress Editorial Calendar fixes that by letting authors and editors view posts in a calendar view. You can drag and drop posts to rearrange their post days, too.